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How do I get high search engine visibility?

Search engine visibility is hugely important for web-based business and individuals. The fundamental rule in obtaining high visibility is to have relevant textual content on your website that contains key terms and phrases that people will use when searching for your type of business or organization. The second most important rule is to have high quality links to your website.

How many search engines are there?

There are actually dozens of search engines, but the most-frequently used are Google and Yahoo, with approximately 50% and 25% market share, respectively. Thus, most webmasters focus on obtaining high visibility with these search engines. MSN, AOL, and Ask search engines collectively have less than a 25% market share (and in fact AOL actually uses Google as its internal search engine). Also note that in countries other than the US market, nation-specific search engines often have a large market share.

Types of search engines

There are two primary types of search engines: true search engines and search directories. Search engines, such as Google, AltaVista, and Excite, send out robots or spiders to index your website, after which your site is evaluated and cataloged in the search engine. With directories such as Yahoo and DMOZ (the Open Directory Project, partnered with AOL), human editors review most website's material and catalog it in the directory. Search engines focus on content, while directories pay relatively somewhat more attention to visual appeal.

Note that directory search results (SER) fall into two categories. Natural search results include those sites that are actually cataloged in the directory. These results are often augmented by ancillary results that are produced by obtaining additional results from a search engine.

Organic search results, often referred to as natural search results, are those that are not paid for (typically via pay-for-click advertising).

There are many specialty search engines, as well as meta search engines, such as Dogpile, Zuula, PlanetSearch, Vivisimo, Kartoo, Mamma, SurfWax, and others that actually pull results simultaneously from other search engines. But to get your website high rankings within the meta engines, you need high rankings within the primary search engines that they reference.

The art and science of getting high search engine visibility (or page visibility) is to know what key phrases people will search for in your line of business, and to integrate those phrases into your website content.

Page visibility versus page rank

The terms page rank page or site visibility are often confused. Visibility is the relative position of your web page or website in the list of "natural" search engine results returned when someone queries a search engine with a search term related to your website. Your objective is to be listed on the first page of search engine results (SER), near the top. The process of achieving this - for many related search terms - is called search engine optimization.

Link popularity is a measurement of the number of links from other websites to your website pages. The more links, the higher your link popularity.

Page rank has a unique meaning within the context of the Google search engine. The fundamental principle of PageRanktm is that web pages that link to your web pages give your pages a higher page rank. But quality matters, not just quality. If the page rank of a page linking to your page is relatively high, the page rank of your pages will be boosted. Thus, getting quality websites in the same line of business to link to your website helps your page rank, which helps increase visibility.

Link popularity (PageRanktm on Google) is an important factor in determining the visibility of your web pages. (Wikipedia explains page rank in detail.)

There are several categories of links between websites:

  • Inbound links are links from other websites to your pages. It is desirable to obtain as many inbound links from "quality" sites - those that have high search engine visibility and high page rankings.
  • Outbound links are links from your pages to other websites. These do not necessarily increase search engine visibility of your site.
  • Reciprocal links are links that are exchanged - you link to another site and that site will link to you. Reciprocal are a good technique to increase the number of inbound links to your site.
  • One way links are links from one site to another, without a reciprocal link back.
  • Paid link submission involves paying a "link farm" website to link back to your website. Be careful when considering doing this, as search engines penalize for what they consider attempts to manipulate visibility.

High search engine visibility

The two most important factors in obtaining high search engine visibility (especially within Google) are:

  • Visible content - the textual content (or "copy") on your website. It is important to incorporate key phrases into the content - keywords that will be used by people searching for websites like yours. Don't overdo it - search engines penalize for keyword "spamming". Keyword density is the ratio of a particular keyword to the total content words. 6% is a good rule of thumb; 10% is excessively high and might trigger penalties.
  • Link popularity or page rank, as described above.

Keyword research

One of the main components of search engine optimization is to incorporate key phrases into the content. Keyword research plays an important role in this phase. This involves determining various phrases that people will use as search engine queries when looking for websites such as yours. Research includes determining keywords and phrases used in your line of business, as well as finding keyword phrases actually used in search engine queries, via use of various analytical tools.

Of course, there is much more that your webmaster should do to make your pages search engine friendly - this includes constructing appropriate title, meta description, and meta keywords tags. A good webmaster will know the rules and guidelines as well as what not to do to try to "trick" search engines.

Web-based advertising and Google adwords

One way to promote your website or your product is with web-based advertising. Under this scenario, you pay for your ads to be placed on various websites. The charges may vary from one-time charges to pay-per-click fees, where you pay a small amount whenever someone clicks on your ad.

Another variant is affiliate advertising, where you place ads on various affiliate websites, and pay the affiliate a commission when a customer navigates to the your website from the affiliate website and makes a purchase.

Google adwords (or ad words) are a form of pay per click (PPC) advertising. They consist of ads that google includes when people search for certain key words (known as adwords). Your ad is returned along with the list of search results. You are charged a small fee every time that someone clicks on your ad.

Website submission services

There are a multitude of services that offer to submit your site to hundreds, if not thousands of search engines. These services are highly overrated. After all, the main search engine market share is composed of Google, Yahoo, MSN and AOL. A competent webmaster will submit your website to the main search engines for free. It is a good idea to submit a new website, but even if you do not do so, search engines will eventually find it with their web crawlers (which is another reason why inbound links are helpful).

Note that there is a difference between search engines and search directories. Your webmaster should submit your website to Yahoo and DMOZ for inclusion (although DMOZ, being volunteer-staffed, may not be very responsive).

Some directories, such as Yahoo, offer paid link submissions. This allows you to get your website cataloged quickly - typically within 48 hours. This may cost $300 US per year, and may not be justifiable for small organizations.


In summary, the art of achieving search engine visibility involves many factors, and there is no single magic bullet that will guarantee you high visibility. Search engine companies deliberately conceal the specifics of their ranking mechanisms so that people do not try to cheat via techniques such as keyword spamming. Search engine optimization (SEO) is an ongoing process that must be an integral part of your website development and maintenance.

Elbel Consulting Services has a proven track record of achieving excellent search engine visibility. Contact ECS for more information on how to improve your website to make your web pages more visible.

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